The national cost for a distributor replacement in 2023 is between $51 and $538 with an average of $151​

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National average cost of a a Distributor Replacement
for popular vehicles:

Car Model

Avg. cost


What is a distributor and how does it work?

A distributor is a component of an engine ignition system on some vehicles.

In order for your engine to run, a mixture of air and fuel are introduced into the cylinders, compressed by the pistons, and ignited by the spark plugs. The rapidly-expanding gasses that result from combustion force the pistons downward in their cylinders. The pistons, in turn, rotate the crankshaft in the same way that you might pedal a bicycle. But these operations do not happen all at once. Each spark plug must fire at a specific time in succession so that the pistons move at just the right time.

On older engines, the distributor is used to “distribute” electrical current to the spark plugs. It uses a rotating shaft with a housing on top (the distributor cap) to which the spark plug wires and coil wire are attached. The distributor shaft spins in response to the engine crankshaft. At the top of the shaft, a plastic rotor spins inside the distributor cap. Electrical contacts on the rotor pass along a high voltage current from the coil to other contacts placed around the inside of the distributor cap. Those contacts are connected to the spark plug wires.

Two types of distributors have been used - mechanical and electronic - the former being the older of the two. Today, however, many vehicle manufacturers have shifted to distributorless ignitions, where individual coils (the components that convert the electricity from low voltage to high voltage) are placed on top of each spark plug. These “coil-on-plug” devices are controlled by signals from the vehicle’s computer, allowing for a more precise operation of the spark plugs.


How do I know if my vehicle needs a new distributor?

More than likely, your vehicle does not have a distributor. If it does, it most likely features an electronic distributor, which is more reliable than older mechanical distributors. And if it does, regardless which type of distributor it has, if there is a problem with the device, it will show up in the performance of your engine. That is because the distributor is directly responsible for controlling the high voltage electric current that goes to the spark plugs at just the right time. And that has a direct impact on combustion and the function of an engine.

If the distributor is malfunctioning, you might notice one or more of the following signs:

Your engine lacks power, sputters, and/or stalls

Your vehicle will not start (or it stalls and will not restart)

You hear backfiring

The check engine light comes on

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How is a a Distributor Replacement done?

Service to a distributor comes in two categories - replacement of the components that tend to wear out (the cap, rotor, and possibly the condenser) or replacement of the entire device. If the whole distributor assembly needs to be replaced, a technician will take the following general steps, depending on the type of distributor used:

  • Disconnect the battery and remove any shields, guards, or covers needed to gain access
  • Remove the ignition wires connected to the distributor
  • Remove the distributor cap
  • Set the engine to “top dead center” and mark the location of the distributor housing and shaft relative to the engine
  • Unbolt the distributor from the engine and extract the shaft from the engine block or mount (taking care to prevent foreign matter from falling inside)
  • Insert the new distributor and fasten in place with the rotor pointing to the cylinder 1 terminal in the distributor
  • Install the distributor cap, reconnect all wiring, and reconnect the battery
  • Start the engine and set the ignition timing according to the manufacturer’s specifications
  • Check the timing advance
  • Replace all other components that were removed for access
  • Test drive the vehicle

Other questions customers ask

How many years does a distributor last?
A distributor's life depends on how many miles per year are put on the vehicle. Inside the distributor are electronics as well as bushings that slowly wear with time and mileage put on the vehicle. These components often last the life of the vehicle, however the parts that attach to the distributor such as the distributor cap and rotor do need to be replaced every year or every 20,000 miles to maintain a properly tuned-up vehicle.
Will a car run with a bad distributor?
Depending on which part of the distributor has failed and the severity of it, the vehicle may not run at all. If you believe the distributor on your engine is failing, the vehicle needs to be inspected by a qualified technician immediately to avoid leaving you stranded.
How long does it take to replace a distributor?
How long it takes to replace a distributor depends on the vehicle make and model, as well as the type of distributor used. On some vehicles, distributor replacement is relatively complex and can take several hours to complete.

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